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Survival Kits | Urban Survival Guide

Survival kits, 72 hour kits, GOOD bags.
A Layered Approach

A few weeks ago, I answered a question about the 5 items to always have on you and then I talked about some micro/minimalist survival kits. There were several responses to both of them that pointed out items that the lists/kits were missing. While they would have been lacking if they were full blown survival kits, the kits ARE sufficient for their intended purposes.

But the comments were understandable, and I appreciated them. They served to make it very clear that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to what the perfect survival kit, 72 hour kit, or GO bag looks like. In fact, there are several different survival kits that are “the best,” depending on your individual situation.

More than that, the questions led into a discussion on the layered system of survival kits that I use.

So, today, we’re going to back up and take a look at how micro, minimal, 72 hour, and full blown get out of Dodge survival kits fit together.

The layered survival kit model is the easiest to observe by looking at what the military does with their loadouts. You’ve got the items that you keep in your cargo pockets, the items that you keep in your load bearing vest/fighting load carrier, the items you keep in your patrol pack, and the items that you keep in your ruck.

Each step up allows you to have more gear, better gear, and more specialized gear. They also cost more, weigh more, make movement slower, and you’re less likely to have them with you when you need them. Going back to the military as an example, it might make perfect sense to have a mortar base plate attached to your ruck, but you wouldn’t take it on a 3am trip to the latrine. Different loadouts are appropriate at different times.

Since the absolute BEST survival kit is the one you have with you when the SHTF, this layered approach ensures that you’ll have SOME supplies with you, even if they’re not the perfect supplies. It’s the same idea behind carrying a concealed handgun…because you can’t always carry a rifle.

Here’s how it looks when you apply the same layering concept to survival and preparedness. Of course, you’ll want to modify the contents depending on your particular skill set:

Micro Survival Kit

Micro survival kit: This may be little more than a multi-tool (even a Leatherman Micra), a folding knife, a lighter, and some thick aluminum foil. If it includes any medical supplies, they’re small, multi-use, and limited in number. Your shoe laces, a paracord bracelet, or something similar will be your cordage. (If you wear boots, this may be a reason to switch from laces to 550 cord.) If there’s any food, it’s 1-2 small bars or gel packs. If you REQUIRE any prescription drugs, you might want to put some in. This “kit” will weigh in under 8 ounces and may simply ride in various pockets or in a small ziplock bag.

Minimalist Survival Kits

Minimalist Survival Kit: These mini survival kits are ones like the REI/Lifeline and REI/AMK pocket kits that I’ve talked about, as well as survival tins (survival kits that fit in an Altoids tin.) In addition to having better ways to take care of fire, shelter, water, and food, they also have more medical supplies. Even so, I personally keep them small enough and light enough so that I can carry them in a cargo pocket, in a Camelback hydration belt/backpack for running, in the bottom of our stroller, or in my computer bag.

And then we’ve got 72 hour kits, bug out bags, GOOD survival kits (Get Out Of Dodge), car survival kits, get home kits & more. There’s a LOT of overlap on these, so don’t get frustrated and think that you need to go buy a bunch more stuff. You don’t.

So, with all of these, you are going to have items that you can use to take care of the basics of survival: fire, shelter, water, food and medical, security, and tools.

72 hour survival kits

With your 72 hour survival kits, you’re going to want to provide at least 3 days of food for every member of your party so that you don’t have to forage, scavenge, or loot. The point of the 72 hour kit is to get you from where you are to somewhere with more supplies or somewhere where you can sustain life without using consumables from your survival kit before your 72 hour it runs out.

Some government agencies are saying that the 72 hour guideline should be replaced by a 5-7 day guideline. Why? Because with tightening budgets, local, regional, and national governments know that it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to provide an organized response to a major disaster within 72 hours.

In any case, the kit could sustain you through a blizzard until help arrives, allow you to hike out of a bad situation, give you survival supplies if you become trapped at your work, sustain you after a car breakdown, or other similar situations.

It could also serve as a “Get Home” bag to get you back to your family after an earthquake or other sudden disaster.

I use mine on a day to day basis for mundane things like snacks, bandaids, dry socks, toilet paper, insect repellant, sunscreen, extra diapers, extra wet wipes, and a lighter.

As a note, if you get a pounding headache if you don’t have your morning coffee, you might want to put some instant coffee or tea in your kit. Excedrin is an option, since it contains caffeine, but I have seen NASTY cases of hyponatremia and crippling cramps after people took Excedrin for their morning pick-up on day-long hikes.

Car Survival Kits

Car Survival Kits

Our car survival kits are plastic storage containers that have our 72 hour kits in them, as well as insulated coveralls, extra gloves, diapers, wet wipes, heat/freeze resistant snacks, jackets, boots/shoes, and other items that we would use if we were riding out a situation using our vehicle as shelter.

The extra clothes and food also give us the ability to “tank up” and change clothes if, as an example, we were 10 miles away from home in dress clothes when a catastrophic event happened.

Bug Out Bags & GOOD Survival Kits

These may be bags or storage containers, but the logic behind them is that they have everything you need if you have to abandon your home for a short, medium, or extended period of time.

Many people suggest putting your important medical, insurance, financial, and identification papers in these kits, but I don’t. I think it’s much smarter to keep these documents in a safe…possibly even in a ziplock bag…so that you can keep them safe but quickly grab them and go. If you want to go the electronic route, you could scan your documents and use a password protected, encrypted thumb drive.

It’s important to note that when our soldiers are doing searches in foreign countries and find containers like this, they call them “cookie jars.” It makes their searches much easier when everything of value is all in a nice portable package. In other words, you need to balance putting all of your good stuff in one place with the risk of a strung out crack head breaking in, running off with it, and selling it for 5 cents on the dollar.

Everyone’s tolerance for risk of theft and desire to be able to leave quickly is going to be different, but just understand that you’ll probably have to make a compromise. If you have the ability to hide large caches, then you’re set. If you have a simple way to secure your GOOD gear, then that’s great too…and I ask you to share it with others below.

Our GOOD/Bug-Out gear is layered as well. If I’m out of town and my wife has to do everything, we have one container. If we have a few more minutes to put the roof rack on, then we have other containers. If we have time to put the hitch rack on, we have other containers, and if it makes sense to take multiple vehicles, we have even more options.

The reason why we have multiple priority layers is because we have a lot of gear that is valuable for survival. We don’t need all of it at any one time (which is why we have one primary container) but if we have the time and room, we want to be able to quickly take it. We can always shed gear along the way if we need to.

Again, this is like the cargo pocket/load bearing vest/patrol pack/ruck conversation. The individual situation is going to dictate which load out you go with and whether you simply do a quick grab-and-go as you’re running out the door or take time to get extra supplies or even barter goods.

Customized Survival Kits

Of course, the perfect survival kit is going to depend a lot on YOU. If you need refrigerated medicine every day in order to survive, your kit will need plenty of ice initially and some ice packs, or another solution to keep your medication at the proper temperature.

One of the advantages of modern medicine is that many people have been able to live several additional years with conditions that would have killed them just a few decades ago.

The downside of this, of course, is that the medications become a lynchpin for your survival plans. This is especially true with insulin, anti-organ rejection medication, and more. In some cases, the medicine is more important than food, so you have to plan for them.

More likely, your customizations are going to be much more mundane and will have to do with your skills, your physical condition, and your age.

If you have medical skills or know a trade, your kits might include items you need to practice your skill. My kits have a significant amount of medical (trauma) supplies, but that’s because of my medical training and experience.

If you have infants in your family or group, you might want to put in some cloth diapers and packs of baby wipes. If you have family members who can’t carry their own supplies, you’ll have to adjust. If you can’t carry a backpack, you might need a wheelbarrow or a sturdy bike.

If you have young kids, you can make up small kits for them. They don’t need knives, weapons, or many tools, but you can put in food, powdered drink mixes, toys, books/coloring books, and extra clothes.

And, if you’re in a wheelchair, injured, or sick, you’re probably depending on other people to carry stuff, but you can still coordinate with them and find out what additional supplies you should have ready. Your survival kit might be as simple as a bag or container with food, water, medications, and a change of clothes.

The important thing is to figure out a solution that works for you. You may not be able to afford high dollar gear. Fine. Survival…and the survival mindset is about making the best of a bad situation, not about having every piece of survival gear that you might possibly need within arm’s reach at all times.

As I write this, I can’t help but think about a 60 Minutes piece last year on “survivalists.” One guy was a “survival instructor” in New York City and he walked around the city all the time carrying a 40 pound backpack! He wanted to be prepared for “anything” and that’s what it took for him to feel comfortable. This wasn’t stuff that he used on a daily basis. It was gas masks, Geiger counters, head to toe HazMat gear, and a fire hydrant wrench to name a few items.

Survival and preparedness is about improvising, adapting, and overcoming obstacles. Gear can help with that, but it’s not necessary. Gear is usually either a crutch to compensate for a lack of skill or a time saver. If you happen to have the perfect gear for the job, then great…otherwise get busy figuring out an alternative.

What about weapons in survival kits?

Well…that’s a deep topic. Whether it’s knives, tomahawks, machetes, sling shots, blow guns, air guns, .22s, side arms, shotguns, rifles, or all of the above, you want to have tools for hunting and for insuring peace through superior force.

For small game hunting, I’d strongly suggest “playing” some with slingshots, pump air pistols/rifles, and .22 pistols/rifles, with an emphasis on slingshots and air weapons. They’re inexpensive to buy, inexpensive to shoot, they’re quiet, don’t have as much regulation as firearms, and they don’t damage as much meat as larger caliber firearms do.

If you already use a layered approach to your survival kits and have learned or developed tricks along the way, please share them by commenting below.

God bless & stay safe!

David Morris

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  1. Tim says:
    August 29, 2013 at 11:12 pm

    Great post.
    I like the car survival kit.

  2. James says:
    May 4, 2014 at 4:16 am

    My 72hr bag stays at home with the rest or our gear. I carry in my pockets a folding knife and a lighter and in my truck is my get home bag a can of fix a flat tender and a magnesium fire starter, a fixed blade knife and my 9mm and two magazines. When the SHTF I will go back home to pickup my family and our gear if we need to leave town. If we stay I park my truck in front of the door and put up the plywood in the windows. It takes 1/2hour to pack up and leave town.

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